Saturday, November 16, 2013

November 16 - Day that "In Search of Lost Time" Was First Self-Published

Madeleines de Commercy
Today in 1913, 100 years ago, the first volume of a novel by Marcel Proust (1871-1922), "A la recherche du temps perdu" ("In Search of Lost Time", aka, before 1992, "Remembrance of Things Past"), was published.

Proust began it in 1909, after eating a piece of a madeleine dipped in tea. He uses this experience as a central theme of his book, describing the involuntary remembrances he had of eating madeleines with his aunt in his childhood. (Julia Childs's recipe for them is here.)

Proust's book was turned down by several publishers. Garrison Keillor says that the editor of a prestigious French literary magazine advised Proust that it not be published because of syntactical errors, and he quotes another editor as responding to Proust:
My dear fellow, I may be dead from the neck up, but rack my brains as I may I can't see why a chap should need 30 pages to describe how he turns over in bed before going to sleep.
Proust put up his own money to self-publish the book, paying Grasset to print it. He worked on the subsequent six volumes the rest of his life, 1.5 million words, until he succumbed to a fatal illness. His brother published the final volumes based on manuscripts Marcel left behind.

Edmund White says that the book is "the most respected novel of the 20th century."

Justice Stephen Breyer
Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has an interesting interview in the latest (November 7) New York Review of Books. It is an English translation of an interview in La Revue des Deux Mondes that he had with a French journalist.

Breyer says he used Proust to learn French when he was a legal intern in Paris for an American law firm, and the Recherche was the first book he read in French.  He describes Proust as "the Shakespeare of the inner mind".

The interviewer asks Breyer why he likes Proust so much. Here is his answer:
It’s all there in Proust—all mankind! Not only all the different character types, but also every emotion, every imaginable situation. Proust is a universal author: he can touch anyone, for different reasons; each of us can find some piece of himself in Proust, at different ages. For instance, the narrator of the Recherche is obsessed with the Duchesse de Guermantes. To him, Oriane embodies a slice of the history of France and glows like a stained-glass window, wreathed in the aura of her aristocratic lineage. Now, however different the situations may be, we have all of us—in our childhood, our adolescence, or later in life—admired from afar someone who has dazzled us for this reason or that. And when we read Proust, we get a glimpse of ourselves.
For more comments by Justice Breyer, click on this link.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

November 9 - Kristallnacht, the Public Start of Hitler's Holocaust

The morning after Kristallnacht... Hitler's murderous
Holocaust was now without fear and in full view.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht (Crystal-night, "the night of broken glass"). In 1938 the Nazis coordinated an attack throughout Germany on Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues - as Garrison Keillor has reminded us in The Writer's Almanac.

My brother Randal Marlin has just issued a second edition of his book on Propaganda, and I was interested to see how the Kristallnacht attacks as outlined by Keillor follow the Propaganda playbook.

1. The attacks were inspired by the murder of a German diplomat by a Jew in Paris. When Hitler heard the news, he decided to use the event to stage a mass uprising in response. (Playbook: Milk events for propaganda purposes.)

2. He and Joseph Goebbels contacted storm troopers throughout Germany and told them to attack Jewish buildings, making the attacks look like spontaneous demonstrations. (Playbook: Stir up public resentment, or fake it.)

3. The police were told not to interfere with the demonstrators, but instead to arrest the Jewish victims! (Playbook: Accuse the victims.)

4. Similarly, firefighters were told only to put out fires in any adjacent non-Jewish properties. (Playbook: Do not protect the victims.)

Everyone cooperated. In all, more than 1,000 synagogues were burned or destroyed. Rioters looted 7,500 Jewish businesses and vandalized Jewish hospitals, homes, schools, and cemeteries. Many of the attackers were neighbors of the victims.

To pile injury on injury:

1. The Nazis confiscated any compensation claims that insurance companies paid to the Jews who lost their property.

2. They imposed a huge collective fine on the Jewish community for the crime of having incited the violence by the murder of the diplomat.

3. They barred Jews from schools and most public places, and forced them to adhere to new curfews.

4. In the days following, thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps. Kristallnacht was the opening shot of the Holocaust. Before that night, the Nazis killed people secretly. Afterwards, the Nazis persecuted and killed Jews openly, because the propaganda ensured that public opinion would be against anyone who tried to stop them. I contacted my brother for his views on Kristallnacht. He said:
What a terrifying time it must have been to be Jew at that time, recognizing that you had no protection from lawless violence. What needs attention is the original statement of Nazi party principles. They made it quite clear that Jews were not citizens of Germany and were without civic standing regarding voting and other civic rights that we today take for granted. That was back in the early 1920s. The moral for us today is to wake up and see what is happening with respect to erosion of the principle of rule of law, and not to allow it to decay any further.
To document what my brother says about the Nazi party origins, I found a timeline used in schools for teaching about the Holocaust. It shows that the Nazi principles were developed in 1923-25.
  • In 1923, the Nazis attempted to take over Munich and failed. In a 24-day trial, Hitler gained the sympathy of the judges and some of the public, and his fellow Nazis were given a light sentence. At this point, the Nazis were a small group on trial, and no one feared them. In prison, Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which laid out the Nazi principles of German pride, and enmity to Jews and Bolsheviks in Germany and worldwide.
  • In 1925, Hitler's book was published after he emerged from prison and started reconstituting the Nazi party under his sole leadership.
  • In 1928, Hitler's party got 2.6 percent of the vote. 
  • In 1929, the worldwide crash occurred, followed by the Great Depression. This threw the German government into confusion and provided an opportunity for Hitler to exploit public distress. 
  • In 1930 Hitler's support leaped to 18 percent of the vote.
  • In 1932, Hitler got 37 percent. 
  • In 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg -- reelected the previous year, but aging and at his wit's end -- appointed Hitler as Chancellor. The Nazis moved in, establishing a police state, step by step. Albert Einstein was in USA, decided not to return to Germany after his German residences were ransacked. 
  • In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria without bloodshed. 
  • In October 1938, having threatened Neville Chamberlain's Britain with war, the Western powers looked away as Germany marched into the Sudetenland and carved up Czechoslovakia.
  • In November, convinced by now that Western governments were paper tigers, Hitler initiated the Holocaust with Kristallnacht.